With 75% of UK businesses with below average productivity compared to international competitors, has the time now come to move towards digital technologies?
Digital manufacturing technologies have the potential to transform manufacturing in the UK, increasing efficiency and profits for businesses and providing the answer to the UK’s productivity conundrum, so why is UK manufacturing lagging so far behind other major economies.
There is a marked reluctance on the part of UK businesses, particularly SMEs, to invest in systems and hardware. BSI has been working with a number of organizations to make the case for digital manufacturing to help manufacturing organizations overcome some of the concerns behind investments in digital technologies.
The Made Smarter Review published in 2017 concluded that digital technologies for manufacturing could improve industrial productivity by 25%.
BSI’s Manufacturing Sector Lead, Ben Sheridan said: “The big driver for introducing digital manufacturing is increasing productivity, which has never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. Around 75% of UK businesses have below average productivity compared to international competitors.”
“We’re working with the Manufacturing Made Smarter Industrial Strategy Change Fund, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and the Digital Catapult to ensure that, where new technology is introduced as part of wider investment, it will add value and achieve the highest level of interoperability,” said Ben.
By investing in digital technologies, manufacturing companies stand to benefit not just by simply cutting costs, but also by increasing revenues through innovative product and service development. If this happens UK manufacturing supply chains will be more resilient to global shocks, such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
In June 2019 BSI, in partnership with Innovate UK, published a standards roadmap for smart factories called ‘Realizing productivity growth through digital technologies’ aimed specifically at SMEs. The report makes several recommendations to help SMEs access the support they need to start the transition to digital.
The report recognizes that more needs to be done to reassure SMEs that digital technologies can work for them. In workshops and in discussions with individual manufacturers, Ben has heard first-hand what some of their concerns are.
“If SMEs are going to invest in new technology, they are looking for a rapid return on their investment,” said Ben. “The cost to them of getting it wrong is extremely high, to the point where some could go out of business. The value of making these changes has got to be very clear to them.”
A real issue is the lack of trust between manufacturers and the vendors who provide digital solutions: “One experienced factory owner in the West Midlands said, every time someone mentioned Industry 4.0 to him they wanted to sell him something that cost a lot of money, yet it was always something he didn’t want.”
To reassure business owners and provide clear guidance, BSI has published PAS 1040, a guide for adopting digital technologies in manufacturing. “It’s a starting point for manufacturers to think about how digital manufacturing might be useful to them,” said Ben.
“It will help them assess how ready they are to adopt digital manufacturing, what different parts of the business would be affected and where to focus their attention. Digital manufacturing introduced in the right way radically affects the way you do your business.”